Statute of Limitations on Sexual Harassment Claims

statute of limitations in sexual harassment claimsSexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination that is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and state laws. Under federal and state law, it is unlawful to harass an applicant or employee because of that person’s sex. Sexual harassment can take many forms, and may include physical or verbal sexual advances. While isolated comments generally do not constitute sexual harassment, such comments become illegal when they are so frequent and severe as to create a hostile or offensive work environment. There is no requirement that a harasser and victim be male and female. Rather, sexual harassment can occur between parties of the same or opposite sex. In order to ensure a harassment or discrimination claim is not time barred, it is important to be aware of filing deadlines with both federal and state agencies. Regardless of the circumstances, an individual is barred from filing a claim, and subsequently from recovering damages, once the statute of limitations has run.

Your Time to File a Claim is Limited

Individuals who wish to file a claim or sue for sexual harassment must do so within a limited window after the date of the last incident. The amount of time an individual has generally depends on three things: (1) Whether the individual works for a government agency, (2) Whether the individual wants to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and (3) Whether the individual wants to file a civil lawsuit under state and local laws. Individuals who work for the federal government must first file an administrative complaint before initiating a civil lawsuit. For other public or private employees, there is no requirement to file a complaint with the EEOC before filing a civil lawsuit. However, regardless of the situation, it is recommended that an employee first file an internal complaint with his or her employer. This ensures the employer is given an adequate opportunity to correct the situation and remedy the alleged harassment. An employer must have knowledge of the sexual harassment in order to be held liable in a future lawsuit. While there are other ways to prove the employer’s knowledge, written proof of a formal complaint will only help an individual’s case. In addition, an employer’s investigation into an allegation of sexual harassment does not change the time deadline. The statute of limitations to file a claim continues to toll even when an employer is conducting an internal investigation.

The EEOC Requirements

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requires an individual to file a charge within 180 days of the last incident of harassment. The EEOC is a federal administrative agency that handles discrimination and harassment claims against employers with at least 15 employees. While 180 days is the general rule, state laws may override the EEOC’s rule and extend the statute of limitations to 300 days from the last incident of harassment. Holidays and weekends are included in the statute of limitations calculation, as well. However, if an individual’s 180-day or 300-day deadline falls on a weekend, the individual has until the next business day to file a charge. Regardless of the amount of time an individual has to file, it is best to file as soon as the incident of harassment occurs. Although the harassment charge is filed based on the last incident of harassment, the EEOC will look at all incidents when investigating the charge. As long as an individual files a charge within 180 or 300 days from the last incident of harassment, the EEOC will still investigate incidents that occurred at an earlier date.

After You File a Charge With The EEOC

Once a charge is filed with the EEOC, your employer will receive a notice of the charge within 10 days of the official filing. The EEOC will conduct an investigation after the charge is filed. Because the EEOC receives many claims, the investigation may not occur immediately. The priority of the investigation often depends on the severity of the details provided within the charge. During an investigation, the EEOC may visit your employer and conduct interviews with other employees at the office. In addition, the EEOC may request more documentation of the discrimination. In some cases, mediation may be a more desirable course of action. Following the investigation, if it is determined that the law has been violated, the EEOC will try to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. If the EEOC and employer are unable to reach a voluntary settlement, the case will be referred to the EEOC’s legal staff. The legal staff will then determine whether it is advisable for the EEOC to file a lawsuit against an employer. In the event the EEOC cannot determine whether an employer has violated the law, the employee will receive a “Notice of Right to Sue.” This notice gives an employee the right to sue in a court of law. Upon receipt of this Notice, an employee has 90 days to formally sue his or her employer.